Tuesday 19 July 2005

Mitridate 2

Continuing on the subject of Mozart's Mitridate, Re di Ponto at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, see below for part 1

The notable thing about the casting was how few star names there were in the cast, and how brilliantly all coped, turning in star performances of this virtuoso music. Mitridate's younger son, Sifare, was played by soprano Sally Matthews. Sifare is loyal to Mitridate but in love with his Father's fiance, Aspasia (Aleksandra Kurzak). As the opera open's with Mitridate's apparent death and his return occurs towards the end of Act 1, this gives Mozart and his librettist plenty of scope for putting Aspasia and Sifare through any amount of anguish, tearful admissions of love and more tearful partings; all done with stupendous artistry and virtuoso style by Matthew's and Kurzak. Both were superb, Kurzak is new to me and she is doing Norina at the ROH next season - hurray! Matthews has been doing some good things recently but her performance here was truly career defining. I doubt that Sifare will prove to be a signature role, its too obscure, but it certainly shows what a talented artist she is, coping with the virtuoso element in the music and being able to use it expressively. Not a large woman, she created a believably androgonous Sifare.

As Sifare's unsavoury elder brother, Farnace, we had the other star of the evening, David Daniels. The look of the costume, makeup and wig (shaved front of head, long, long hair and white makeup) did not really suit him as much as it did Jochen Kowalski when the production is new. Its difficult to be evil when you rather look like the wicked witch of the west. Also, I felt the role lies a little too low for Daniels, he can do this sort of thing be here is a singer who started out his career singing the mezzo-soprano role of Sesto in Handel's Giulio Cesare. Still, it provided his legions of London fans a rare opportunity to see him in a stage performance. We were sitting near someone who had been to see the opera 3 times this run!

As Farnace's ignored fiance, Ismene, Susan Gritton proved that she has been developing enormously. Glance at her CV and you notice that much of this development has been happening away from London; though she sings here regularly, it is in Munich that she sang Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare. After her multi-dimensional Ismene, I hope we hear more of her on the London operatic stage.

The production seemed a little less stylised than it had been, perhaps the current cast were not so comfortable with the repertoire of movements created for them. Some seemed to lapse into naturalistic acting rather too often. The choreography also seemed softer edged, less ritualistic and kabuki like. But it is 12 years since I have seen the production, so memory may be playing tricks

This is not one of Mozart's best operas; by half-way through Act 3, I began to feel the music and drama running out of steam and Vick seemed to notch the production up a a gear to compensate. But in terms of design, style and the staging of an opera seria this is a stand-out production. I hope we don't have to wait another 12 years for it.

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